With a pitching staff beleaguered by injuries and overuse, the Mets decided that the best move for the time being was to send Seth Lugo, who had been extremely effective as a reliever so far this season, back to the starting rotation for the first time since the end of 2017.
The Mets could not have asked for anything more from Lugo in his first start back. He turned in four scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out three.
Despite the fact that Mickey Callaway had used Lugo in a hybrid role in the pen, where he was used in high leverage spots but was also capable of providing length when needed, the Mets’ manager told reporters before the game that Lugo would be capped at about 65 pitches. Lugo’s season high out of the bullpen was 48 pitches, which he did on April 28 in San Diego.
In his four innings, Lugo threw 60 pitches, 43 of them for strikes. As he always does, Lugo mixed speeds, going between his fastball and curveball effectively. Lugo used his changeup sporadically, but successfully as well. Lugo’s fastball velocity remained mostly consistent with where it sat in the bullpen. He was mostly 92-94 with the fastball, but dialed it up to 95 MPH in the first inning and was able to reach back for some extra velocity when he needed it throughout the start. His four-seamer has averaged 94.6 MPH so far during the season.
Lugo clearly had a gameplan against the Cubs lineup. It was evident from the first inning that Lugo and Devin Mesoraco planned to jam enemy hitters inside with the fastball. In his first-inning at bat against Anthony Rizzo with two out and a man on second base, Lugo beat Rizzo with three fastballs on the inside part of the plate. Rizzo, who famously crowds the dish, wound up hitting a soft line drive to Amed Rosario for an easy out.
Mickey Callaway had this to say of Lugo’s start, “I think he was really good. He mixed his pitches well, he did a really good job of pitching to the scouting report. Good changeup, good breaking-ball, elevated when he needed to with the fastball, pitched in off the plate. He did a really good job.”
Lugo had all of his pitches working in his start. Perhaps Lugo’s most effective pitch this season has been his curveball, which has seen a spike in usage in 2018. He used the curveball just 17.4% of the time in 2017, but is using it 32.9% of the time this season. It has paid off for Lugo, as opponent batters are hitting just .175 against the pitch, as opposed to .295 a season ago. Lugo went to the curve to punch out Javy Baez in the second inning. Lugo struck out just three batters in his outing, but induced a ton of weak contact. Seven of his twelve outs were on the ground.
By going between the fastball and curveball effectively, Lugo kept the Cubs off-balance, see-sawing back and forth as they could not sit on a single pitch. The difference in average velocity between Lugo’s heater and his curve is approaching 15 miles per hour. The strategy worked for Lugo again in the fourth, when he got Kris Bryant to ground out with two men on and two out. Bryant grounded out on an off-speed pitch, following two fastballs inside to set up the third offering.
Lugo retired both men he faced with batters in scoring position during his start. In those situations, Lugo has excelled this year. Batters are now just 3-for-24 against the righy when runners are in scoring position. No runner reached third base against him.
Now the attention turns to when Lugo will make his next appearance. Mickey Callaway indicated that Steven Matz should be set for his next start after playing catch prior to the game, avoiding the disabled list and helping straighten the Mets’ rotation woes. Although Lugo has been successful out of the bullpen, his postgame comments seemed to indicate where he would like to be:
“I’ve always been a starter. I’m a lot more comfortable starting games.”
Prior to his start against the Cubs, Lugo’s career ERA as a starter sat at 4.09, while it was 2.56 as a reliever. Lugo, however, has looked better this season when he was given more rest in between outings. Ultimately, the decision to slot Lugo into the rotation full-time might rest on the health of Matz and Noah Syndergaard.